George Garvin Brown
“Bourbon's First Bottler"
George Garvin Brown was born in September 1846 in Munfordville, KY, the son of J.T.S. Brown and the half brother of J.T.S. Brown, Jr. During his childhood, he was the man of the house since both his father and his older brother were off fighting in the U. S. Civil War. He was sent to Louisville to attend Male High School, though he left 6 months before graduation, likely because his family didn’t have enough money to continue to send and support him during the war.
As a late teen George got a job as a pharmaceutical salesman selling things like quinine, laudanum, opiates, and medicinal whiskey. As he called on his sales contacts, he heard continual complaints about the quality of the whiskey they were prescribing to patients. On some occasions the prescriptions would be of good quality, sometimes fair and sometimes the prescription would be down right terrible. Back then there was no quality control and not even at set of standards to judge them by, in fact there was just no way to know what you were going to get.
in the 1960’s and 1970’s Whiskey was still only sold by the barrel. Bottling was expensive, so you would have to take your jug down to the tavern to fill it up. Sometimes things had been added to the whiskey to stretch the supplies or adulterate it in some way, so you also never knew what quality of whiskey you were going to get either.
George decided to start a whisky business in 1870 with his older half-brother, J.T.S. Brown, Jr., who was already had plenty of experience in the whisky business and had a small company of his own. Together they would purchase whiskey straight from a distillery directly, batch it together with other barrel for consistency and then bottle it. That would ensure anyone purchasing their product could expect safety and consistency. His signature was placed on the label of every bottle as a guarantee to his customers.
Originally, Geoge decided that “Old Brown” wasn’t a good name for a bourbon brand, so he decided to name it after a prominent Louisville doctor, Dr. William Forrester. Forrester had lost both his parents in a typhus epidemic and was raised on a farm by the Speed family. He was well known for his role as a Union Cavalry surgeon who cared for both guards and prisoners at the notorious Andersonville Prison after his capture.
It’s worth noting that George Girvin Brown had the idea for consumer protections by bottling and sealing his product long before the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. This led the way into the modern era of whiskey production, and once patents were granted for two piece machine blown glass bottles in 1887 and three piece machine blown glass bottles in 1893, whiskey became closer to the modern product we now know.
Brown-Forman was one of six Kentucky distilleries allowed to remain open during Prohibition, they were given a license to make medicinal whiskey. Today, Old Forester is the only bourbon distilled, aged, and bottled entirely in Louisville.